The Digital Journalism Blog


Universe realigns in Peoria

By Elise Dismer

What’s shaking up the cosmos in Peoria, Illinois? Find out why Peoria’s planets must find new homes.

PEORIA, Ill. — Students at Bradley University are feeling the gravity of losing their very own planet.

Jupiter, which has been hanging in Olin Hall for about a decade, will begin a new orbit elsewhere at the end of May.

Bradley Werner, mechanical engineering major at Bradley, likes having the planet on campus.

“It’s fitting that Jupiter’s in Olin Hall right now, our science building,” he said.

Likewise, biology major Tyler Ingram, who passed the planet often on his way to Chemistry last semester, isn’t over the moon about Jupiter’s removal from campus.

“It’s sad,” said the Peoria native. “It’s cool to explain to people while you’re walking up the stairs that there’s this entire solar system in Peoria and we, at Bradley, have one of the planets.”

Ingram remembers when he first learned of the citywide mockup of the solar system during a school field-trip.

“Honestly, I think it’s just a really cool way to relate the scale of the solar system to something you can tangibly go to, travel that distance, and get an idea of how small we are,” he said.

But the solar system of Ingram’s childhood, which earned a place in the 1992 Guinness Book of Records, is about to get an astronomic overhaul. With the movement of the planetarium – which houses the “sun” – from the Lakeview Museum to the new Peoria Riverfront Museum, the location and size of each planet must shift accordingly.

Planetarium Curator Sheldon Schafer, the man who nursed this whole project from its infancy, said the scale would change from about 125 million miles to one, to 99 million miles to one. This alteration would increase each celestial body’s size and distance by more than 20 percent.

Schafer

Schafer beneath Jupiter hanging in Olin Hall at Bradley University.

“Scale is something that’s always misunderstood,” Schafer said. “It’s essential, if you’re going to understand the magnitude of our achievements in space, and our quest to explore space. If you don’t understand scale, you’re really missing the first step of how big space is and how small we really are.”

Ingram thinks enlarging the planets is a stellar idea.

“It’s great,” he said. “It makes it more noticeable to the public and all the changes will help more people hear about it.”

One of these changes includes aligning Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars along the Riverfront trail, in order to display the solar system model more prominently. These planets, made of lathed wood, will be painted and sealed in Carbonite tubes to protect them from the elements.

“Carbonite is nearly indestructible,” Schafer said. “You should be able to take a baseball bat to it and not harm it.”

While he doesn’t urge anyone to test this claim, Schafer is confident and proud of Peoria’s solar system replica.

“I’d say our model is the world’s most complete solar system,” he said.

And while Ingram’s bummed to see Jupiter leave Bradley, he said he appreciates the thought and energy that goes into maintaining the integrity of the model.

“It’s always been something cool about Peoria,” he said, “which the locals like to brag about.”

New Planets of Peoria

Visiting the heart of our solar system

See how big you’d be if you were proportionate to the planets!

planet image

Enter your height to see how large you would appear in space compared to all the planets in our solar system, given the model’s current scale.

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